Questions on: Buckthorn
Ron Smith, Horticulturist, NDSU Extension Service
Q: Is columnar buckthorn considered a host plant for soybean aphid? (Is it the same as other buckthorns?) We live on a farm and don't know if thatís a plant we should be using as an ornamental planting around the house, although we like it and have one nice established shrub. (E-mail reference)
A: Buckthorn is a host plant for soybean aphid so don't plant it unless you want to face the wrath of soybean farmers! It uses the buckthorn as an overwintering site in the egg stage.
Q: I have a shrub growing wild and I am wondering if it is OK to eat the berries? It looks like a chokecherry bush, the one difference is that it stays green long into the fall, and it has dark blue-black berries that stay on the branch late also. (McVille, N.D.)
A: It seems to me that you have common buckthorn growingknown botanically as Rhamnus cathartica. As the species name implies, it is quite laxative to humans, so don't make pies out of it! Thanks for writing.
Q. I always like and enjoy your column, but shame on you for telling the reader from Maddock to "consider both plants a weed" (mint and buckthorn).
An 8-foot-high buckthorn is a very nice thing to see, and the fragrance from the greenish flowers in early June is heavenly. Some of the most individual specimens in Chantangua Park and Pioneer Park on the courthouse lawn here in Valley City are well grown buckthorns with gracefully arching branches.
Mint is a herb which makes delicious tea, sauces, herbal sugars, etc. I have used native mint for many purposes with much success. Mint plants cost plenty (if not a "mint") when you buy them from a nursery. Why should they be regarded as a "weed" simply because the owner didn't have to pay for them?
I would tell the reader from Maddock to enjoy his mint and buckthorn, but to keep the mint under control. (Valley City, N.D.)
A. Ouch! I accept my well-deserved shame with humility! You are right. I am too quick to condemn these two plants to a "weed" status.
Just to let you know that I am really a decent, unbiased guy, we are growing three kinds of mint in our own gardenpepper, spear, and Egyptianand enjoy them immensely. We keep them in bounds with railroad ties.
As for the buckthornyes, it does have all the qualities you describe, but I have seen where the heavy consumption of the fruit by birds leads to an unwanted planting scheme. By a very rough definition, a "weed" is an unwanted plant in that particular location.
Bentgrass, used on putting greens and tees on golf courses, becomes unwanted "weeds" when the golfer unwittingly carries seed back home and it establishes in his Kentucky bluegrass lawn.
So, by virtue of location, not necessarily the plant species, a plant is often called a weed.
Thank you for writing! You obviously know your horticulture. Any chance you are a Master Gardener, or are planning to take the course in Jamestown this winter?
I promise to not be as quick to denounce a plant as a weed in the future!
Q.Could you please tell me what type of a tree this is, as we moved and are trying to weed out the hedge. Thanks. (Anamoose, N.D.)
A.The sample you sent was from Rhamnus cathartica, common buckthorn, most likely planted by a bird. The fruits are apparently tasty to the bird population and seeds benefit from passing through their digestive systems sprouting into shrubs anywhere they are dropped.
In essence, if it is not what you want or where you want it, it is a weed. You have my permission to remove it!
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